Too often, people equate thought leadership with the objective of being the “knowledgeable expert” or “guru” in the industry. Simply having the knowledge and expertise is not enough for being recognized as a thought leader and standing out from the crowd. Thought leading companies are different because they promote a thought (or: Novel Point of View) that triggers people to look at the themes they consider important in new ways, and to challenge their conventional thought patterns.

In our book, we work with the following definition:

Thought leadership is the act of promoting novel viewpoints (through behavior and communication) that reframe how customers and stakeholders think about the issues that are important to them.

That said, simply articulating your Novel Point of View is not enough for being recognized as a thought leader. Companies constantly need to demonstrate how their behavior is in line with this Novel Point of View. Apple, IBM and Unilever are examples of companies that, over time, have learned how to bring their daily actions in line with their Novel Points of View. By doing so, they develop credibility and trust among stakeholders – key requirements for building thought leadership positions.

Thought leadership is not something that you self-proclaim (e.g., “We are thought leaders” or “see our thought leadership material”). Thought leadership is a strategy that is underpinned by the company’s vision, identity and expertise. Without these anchor points, thought leadership simply fades away (see our book: Thought Leadership: vernieuwende inzichten en waardecreatie op het snijvlak van markt en maatschappij (Thought Leadership: innovative insights and value creation on the cutting edge of market and society)).


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